Ask the doctors: How much fruit can I eat and stay within the sugar guidelines?

Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctors

Q: I just read that we shouldn't be getting more than 10% of our calories from sugar. Should I cut back on fruit?

A: While it's a good idea to limit sugars from processed foods, you can worry less about eating too much fruit. In fact, one small study found no ill effects in people who ate 20 servings of fruit a day for 12 to 24 weeks.

Whole fruits are full of antioxidants and other nutrients and are high in fiber. Although fruits contain quite a bit of sugar, it is packaged inside cells, so digestive enzymes have to break down the cells to free fruit sugars, releasing them slowly into the bloodstream. When you eat an apple, you remain sated longer and are less likely to overeat than when you have a donut, whose sugar is immediately available.

Enjoy a variety of fruits, with one caution: stick to whole fruit instead of juice. The process of squeezing the fruit breaks open the cells, releasing the sugars. When you drink a glass of apple juice, you're going to get more sugar into your blood faster, and are likely to feel hungry sooner, than when you eat an apple.

— Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch